Offical language: Spanish
Currency: The Chilean peso.
The long, narrow shape of Chile immediately marks out it on the map as a travel destination like no other. Upon further investigations these suspicions are confirmed, as we discover a land of endless deserts, glaciers, mysterious islands, cosmopolitan cities and glorious beaches. This is one of the most modern and progressive countries in Latin America. Yet, it also offers the occasional glimpse into its colonial past and further back. The capital is Santiago and this is a fine place to start to understand the charms of this beautiful country. It is a cosmopolitan city that often feels more like Europe than South America. After experiencing the modern delights of Santiago it is easy to get out to smaller but no less interesting destinations such as Valparaíso, Concepción and Viña del Mar. These are all exciting places to spend some quality time but for truly adventurous travellers the real thrills lie to the north and the south of this central belt. To the north the landscape starts to resemble the Moon as we head out to the astonishingly dry Atacama region. This part of Chile is stuffed full of amazing natural attractions such as geysers, salt plains and coloured lagoons. It also has the more traditional appeal of the coastal cities such as Iquique and Arica as well. If you choose to head down to the south then you should prepare for unpredictable weather and some incredible sights to keep you warm. Glaciers, penguins and stunning national parks make this part of Chile a far cry from Santiago but also hugely exciting.For even more adventure, Robinson Crusoe Island and Easter Island are part of Chile and make for side trips that you aren’t likely to forget in a hurry.
You will find one of the longest but narrowest coastlines in the world here, due to the long, slender shape of Chile. The lack of moisture in the Atacama Desert means that in parts of it the soil has been compared to that on Mars. It is considered one of the least corrupt countries in the region and Santiago has been named the safest capital in South America. The high number of amazingly clear, cloudless nights in parts of Chile helps explain why so many observatories have been built here. The real life Robinson Crusoe was shipwrecked on a Chilean island, while Easter Island is part of Chile and is the most isolated island on the planet.
Must see places in Chile
Santiago de Chile
The capital of Chile is also its most important centre in many respects. Its excellent location means that it is a useful base for exploring the country from, giving the option of heading to the beach or to the mountains easily from here. A good place to start exploring Santiago is in the park called Parque Metropolitano. From here you can climb up to the top of the Cerro San Cristóbal hill and see a wonderful view of the city. If the 60 minute hike seems too strenuous you could also get up there in a cable car. The main plaza in the city is called Plaza de Armas and you will find the cathedral here.
The stunningly beautiful city of Valparaíso is famous for its colourful houses and the trendy, bohemian atmosphere. The end of the year is a good time to visit, as this is when the annual carnaval takes place. There is less of a modern, big city feel than in most parts of the country, replaced by a cool small city vibe.
The peaceful name of this city gives a good idea of the laid back charms La Serena offers. It has become an increasingly important tourist destination in recent years, with many visitors heading to the beach and the musical festivals during the summer months. Like most of Chile, it has a good range of modern facilities such as restaurants and hotels. Among the top attractions is the Easter Island head in the Archaeological Museum. The nearby Elqui Valley makes for a nice trip.
This is one of the most isolated islands on the planet, and a long, long way from mainland Chile. However, it is part of the country and you can get a flight here from Santiago relatively easily. It is a fairly small island, which makes the famous giant stone statues look even more out of place. There is no doubt that it is one of the most intriguing travel destinations on Earth and if you are in Santiago then it is probably going to be your best ever chance of getting here.
Viña del Mar
The 4th biggest city in Chile isn’t far from Santiago. The beaches here are wonderful but Viña del Mar is probably best known for its spectacular annual music festival which attracts top class artists from around the world. An international film festival is also held here each year. Additionally, this lovely city is known as the Garden City because of the amount of parks and green spaces it contains.
Punta Arenas is the most southerly city in Chile and one of the most southerly in the world. This is a popular stopping point for cruise ships and can be reached from other points in Chile in a number of ways. This is a good base from which to head out to the amazing Torres del Paine national park or to see one of the nearby colonies of penguins.
Torres del Paine National Park
The Torres del Paine National Park is located in Chile’s Region XII, between the massif of the Los Andes Mountain Range and the Patagonian steppes. It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful national parks, famous all around the world for its spectacular scenery, fauna and adventure tourism activities. Declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1978 and recognized as one of the most beautiful, unique and uncontaminated places on the planet. It is a place of lakes, rivers, waterfalls, glaciers, forests and incredible wildlife, all of which make it an exciting destination for wildlife observers and adventure sportsmen, ecology-lovers.
This beach city in the north of the country has a great climate and offers lots of to do. The strong waves mean that swimming isn’t recommended on many stretches of sand, though. Iquique has a giant duty free shopping centre called Zofri, where goods arriving directly by sea are sold to vendors who then take them to resell throughout the country and to neighbouring countries. This is a popular destination with Chilean holidaymakers and with tourists from other South American countries.
The town of Valdivia is a fine place to take a boat trip out to the ruins of some Spanish forts from the 17th century. Another big attraction here is the fish market. As well as the freshly caught products on sale there is also the chance to feed the sea lions and pelicans that hang around here. January sees an interesting festival set up here, with lots of seafood and folk music to enjoy.
The second biggest city in Chile lies on the coast and is called Concepción. It is a friendly place with a big student population. There are some gleaming modern shopping centres here, such as the Mall del Centro, as well as modern traditional shopping and eating places such as the market (Mercado Central). Recommended destinations for trips from here include the Nonguén Nature Reserve and the old whale factory that is on the Hualpén Peninsula.
San Pedro de Atacama
This relaxed town in the north of the country is one of Chile’s top tourist attractions. It is an oasis town in one of the world’s driest deserts and a starting point for seeing some incredible places. For example, the Geysers del Tatio are among the highest geysers on the planet. You can also reach the salt plains, the Valley of the Moon and some sandboarding spots from here.
Things to do in Chile
Head to the Beach
With such a long coastline it is no surprise to see that Chile is filled with wonderful beaches. Iquique, La Serena and Viña del Mar are among the top spots for heading down to the sands. In some places the strong waves mean that the water is ideal for surfing but not so good for swimming in.
Go to the Desert
Deserts aren’t normally particularly interesting tourist destinations but the welcoming town of San Pedro de Atacama makes a great place to see the charms of the Atacama Desert. It isn’t as hard to get to as you might think and the local travel agencies offer a wide range of exciting trips out to see some of the natural wonders of the area.
Enjoy the Festivals
As is the case in most of Latin America, festivals play a big part in the lives of the locals. Viña del Mar is probably the best destination for festival seekers visiting Chile, as there is an internationally renowned music festival and a film festival held here. Elsewhere, there are festivals held throughout the year for a variety of reasons. These events offer a good excuse to eat lots of great food, listen to Chilean music and chat to some locals.
There is a good mixture of shopping opportunities in Chile, from modern shopping centres to traditional markets. The crafts are often a little bit more expensive than in neighbouring countries such as Bolivia and Peru. However, the quality is usually extremely high. Santiago is the best city for modern shopping while Iquique is a good bet for traditional crafts.
Do Something Different
Chile offers a number of interesting ways to do something completely different. Perhaps the most obvious one is to take a flight from Santiago out to the incredible Easter Island. Another possibility here is that of visiting Robinson Crusoe Island. This is the island where Alexander Selkirk was shipwrecked, inspiring the tale of Robinson Crusoe. Deserted mining towns and whale factories add to the prospects of doing something in Chile they you have never done before.
Visit Tololo Observatory
If you love Astronomy and would love learn more about secrets of Universe - Tololo Observatory is the place you must see! Tololo Observatory is one of the most famous observatories in the world. It is located only 85km east of La Serena. It has most advanced telescopes and the best location to observe galaxy. A visit Tololo Observatory is very spectacular! Guided tours are offered in Spanish and English and last approximately two hours. Each tour can accommodate up to 50 people, and reservations must be made a month in advance
Best time to visit Chile
Tourists visit Chile between December and February
December through to February is the high season for travel in Chile, although most of the country can be comfortably visited at any time of year. This is when you can expect to find the resorts and tourist attractions to be most crowded. On the other hand, Santiago is likely to be partially deserted when a high percentage of its inhabitants head out on holiday at this time of year. Summer is probably best avoided in hot places such as San Pedro de Atacama. The southern part of the country can get very windy from October through to December. October to March is generally seen as the best time to head south, although the weather is very changeable here at any time of year.
Nearly every climate on Earth can be found in Chile. For example, the north of the country has a dry desert climate, while the south has an alpine tundra climate. Rainfall also varies widely, with the northern regions among the driest places on Earth. Central Chile has a Mediterranean climate and the amount of rainfall increases the farther south you go. The snowy conditions in the Andes also mean that skiing is possible not far from Santiago.
One of the few problems encountered by tourists is with the difficult local accent. Studying some Chilean Spanish examples online will be a big help, even if you are fairly proficient with the language already.
Chilean police are regarded as the strictest and least corrupt in South America. Stay out of trouble and if they speak to you then don’t think you can bribe your way out of problems like you could in some other countries.
Supermarkets are widespread and good value in Chile. Wine is an especially good purchase but you might also find hot snacks and cheap clothes in them too.
Tipping 10% in restaurants is normal and this amount is often included in the bill.